Hear Jay Jennings discuss nonfiction writings of Charles Portis today at noon as part of CALS Legacies & Lunch series

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Jay Jennings is the foremost expert on the writings of Charles Portis. (And a very talented writer himself!)  Today (July 3) at noon, he will speak about Portis at the CALS Butler Center Legacies & Lunch series.

Charles Portis is well known for his novels, such as the classic True Grit, but his journalism, travel writing, and other short works—many of them touching on his Arkansas roots—remained largely unknown until the collection Escape Velocity was published by Butler Center Books in 2013. Author/editor Jay Jennings, editor of that tome, will discuss the process of bringing together this miscellany and how it relates to Portis’ career.

The program starts at 12 noon in the Darragh Center of the CALS Main Library Branch.

Legacies & Lunch is a free monthly program of CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies about Arkansas related topics. Program are held from noon to 1 pm on the first Wednesday of the month. Attendees are invited to bring a sack lunch; drinks and dessert are provided. A library parking discount is available for attendees.

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50 Years ago – World Premiere of TRUE GRIT takes place in Little Rock at Cinema 150

Glen Campbell speaks with Larry McAdams of KATV at the opening of TRUE GRIT.

On June 12, 1969, the world premiere of the film TRUE GRIT took place at the Cinema 150.

Actor/singer (and Arkansas native) Glen Campbell was in attendance at the event, but another Arkansan connected to the movie – author Charles Portis, did not attend.

Portis’ objection was that the film was being used as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and he was a supporter of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican. Portis described himself as a Rockefeller Democrat.  The next night, in Hot Springs, Portis hosted what was billed as the “Author’s Premiere.”

While Portis may have been absent (and there is no way that GOP stalwart John Wayne would have considered coming to the premiere), the Cinema 150 was sold-out.  Press accounts noted that attendees ranged from Senator J. William Fulbright and Rep. Bill Alexander to former office holders Orval Faubus and Bruce Bennett (who presumably took a break that evening from trying to prove who was the more ardent segregationist).

Quite a few in attendance also had their eye on 1970’s Democratic primaries including Attorney General Joe Purcell and Secretary of State Kelly Bryant.  No mention was made in the media if Charleston, Arkansas, attorney Dale Bumpers was in attendance.

The film was cheered by those in attendance, although some did comment about the presence of snow-capped mountains in the film that was set in Arkansas and Oklahoma. But that was a minor quibble. (The film was shot in Colorado.)

Following the premiere, the party continued under a big circus tent, set up that evening in the parking lot of the shopping center at the southwest corner of Asher and University (now the home to Murry’s Dinner Playhouse).

The Pryor Center for Arkansas Studies has compiled a video clip from the opening.  It can be viewed here.

Rock the Oscars 2019: TRUE GRIT (both versions)

In 1969, Arkansan Charles Portis’ novel True Grit was made into a movie starring John Wayne and Arkansan Glen Campbell.  Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Strother Martin are also in the cast.

The movie was directed by Henry Hathaway, produced by Hal B. Wallis, and written by Marguerite Roberts.  Wilford Brimley and Jay Silverheels are uncredited actors in the movie.

Though set in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the movie was filmed in Colorado.  Elvis Presley was the first choice for the part Campbell would play. But when his manager demanded top billing (over Wayne), he was bypassed and the part went to Campbell.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars: Wayne for Best Actor and composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black for the song “True Grit.”  The latter had been sung by Campbell in the movie.

Wayne won the Oscar that night, his only win.  He would reprise the character of Rooster Cogburn in the eponymously named sequel in 1975. This film, in which he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, was his penultimate film.

In 1970, Campbell teamed up with Kim Darby again in a film written by Roberts based on a Portis book. This time it was Norwood.  It also starred Joe Namath, Carol Lynley, Meredith MacRae, and Dom DeLuise.  It did not repeat the success of the earlier Portis based movie.

In 2010, the Coen Brothers released a new version of Charles Portis’ True Grit.  Co-written and co-directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, it starred Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson and Elizabeth Marvel.  Unlike the original film, which was filmed in Colorado, this film was actually filmed partially in Arkansas, where  several scenes takes place.  Filming also took place in Texas.  Many Arkansas actors appeared in the film, but at the risk of omitting some, there will not be an attempt to name them.

The film received ten Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Directing, Leading Actor (Bridges), Supporting Actress (Steinfeld), Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Art Direction.  Sadly, the film went home empty handed.

18 Cultural Events from 2018 – OXFORD AMERICAN celebrates 50 years of TRUE GRIT

Image result for true grit 50 oxford americanThroughout April, the Oxford American magazine haled a series of events to mark “50 Years of True Grit.” It culminated with programs over the weekend of April 20-21, 2018, to celebrate the anniversary of the publication of the beloved novel by Charles Portis, one of the magazine’s most acclaimed contributors.

The festivities included panel discussions, readings, tours, museum exhibits, film screenings, and a special Saturday-night variety show, featuring comedy, music by Portis’s fellow Arkansas native Iris DeMent, and appearances and performances by the book’s notable fans.

Published by Simon & Schuster in 1968 (after it was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post), True Grit earned immediate popularity and critical praise as a rousing frontier adventure tale in which fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross seeks to avenge her father’s murder with the aid of a down-at-the-heels federal marshal named Rooster Cogburn. Over the past half-century, readers of all ages have come to treasure the book as a classic of American literature. The book has inspired two award-winning films-the 1969 version, which earned John Wayne his sole Academy Award, and the 2010 remake by Joel and Ethan Coen starring Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges.

“So few books stand the test of time but True Grit’s literary reputation and its popularity have only grown in fifty years,” said Jay Jennings, a senior editor at the Oxford American and editor of the collection Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany. “We thought the book’s landmark anniversary deserved a big celebration in the state that is the setting for much of the book and the home of both the author and the magazine.” Portis has published a number of humor pieces in the Oxford American and in 2010 was awarded the magazine’s inaugural prize for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Literature.

In October it was announced that the Oxford American was the 2019 recipient of the Arkansas Arts Council’s Governor’s Arts Award for Folklife.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: Charles Portis’ DELRAY’S NEW MOON in 1996

When you’ve written one of the great American novels of the second half of the 20th Century and seen it turned into an Oscar winning movie, what do you do next?  You continue writing.

And if you are Charles Portis, you decide in the 1990s to try your hand at a play.  So in 1996, the Arkansas Rep offered a staged reading of Portis’ play Delray’s New Moon. 

Directed by Rep Artistic Director Cliff Baker, it was set in a honky tonk hotel halfway between Little Rock and Texarkana. Most of the people there are senior citizens awaiting their next location whether it be a nursing home or a relative’s house.

The cast featured Scott Edmonds played a father being shuffled each month between his daughters played by Judy Trice and Natalie Canerday.  Others in the cast included Danielle Rosenthal, Jean Lind, John Stiritz, Michael Davis, Graham Gordy, Stacy Breeding, Angel Bailey, Rhonda Atwood and Tom Kagy.

The production ran from April 18 to 28.  The normally reclusive Portis participated in talkback sessions following performances.

Rock the Oscars: TRUE GRIT, Part 2

In 2010, the Coen Brothers released a new version of Charles Portis’ True Grit.  (As a reminder, Portis had roots in Central Arkansas and was once a writer for the Arkansas Gazette.)

Co-written and co-directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, it starred Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson and Elizabeth Marvel.  Unlike the original film, which was filmed in Colorado, this film was actually filmed partially in Arkansas, where  several scenes takes place.  Filming also took place in Texas.  Many Arkansas actors appeared in the film, but at the risk of omitting some, there will not be an attempt to name them.

The film received ten Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Directing, Leading Actor (Bridges), Supporting Actress (Steinfeld), Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Art Direction.  Sadly, the film went home empty handed.

 

 

Rock the Oscars, TRUE GRIT – Part 1

Fifty years ago, former Arkansas Gazette reporter Charles Portis wrote a novel entitled True Grit.  It is more than a work of literature, it is a work of art.  In April 2018, the Oxford American will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the novel with a series of events.

In 1969, the movie was made into a movie starring John Wayne and Arkansan Glen Campbell.  Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Strother Martin are also in the cast.  The movie was directed by Henry Hathaway, produced by Hal B. Wallis, and written by Marguerite Roberts.  Wilford Brimley and Jay Silverheels are uncredited actors in the movie.

Though set in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the movie was filmed in Colorado.  Elvis Presley was the first choice for the part Campbell would play. But when his manager demanded top billing (over Wayne), he was bypassed and the part went to Campbell.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars: Wayne for Best Actor and composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black for the song “True Grit.”  The latter had been sung by Campbell in the movie.

Wayne won the Oscar that night, his only win.  He would reprise the character of Rooster Cogburn in the eponymously named sequel in 1975. This film, in which he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, was his penultimate film.

In 1970, Campbell teamed up with Kim Darby again in a film written by Roberts based on a Portis book. This time it was Norwood.  It also starred Joe Namath, Carol Lynley, Meredith MacRae, and Dom DeLuise.  It did not repeat the success of the earlier Portis based movie.